Archive for the ‘Coaching Skills’ Category

Resilience for Athletes

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Over the years, I’ve seen coaches create a reaction in their athlete by saying inflammatory things. They often do this to try to evoke an emotion. For some athletes, it works. For most athletes, it has a negative outcome. It may initially give coaches the reaction they are after, however, any enhancement in performance is short-lived.

It has a lot to do with the mental and emotional resilience of an athlete.

I was recently working with an athlete and their coach. The coach is very knowledgeable about their sport, they’ve got some great results out of their sport, and they’ve been around a long time; so they know how to coach.

While I was working with the athlete, I asked the coach to do what they’d normally do, to coach the athlete so I could observe the interaction, and work out what I could do to make it more effective and efficient. When the coach was watching the athlete doing some specific skills, the coach was imparting some great technical knowledge to the athlete. You could see this athlete actually adored this coach and hung off every word they were saying. Every time they gave an opinion, thought, or directive, this athlete was keen to apply what they’d just learned.

As the coach turned around to walk back to observe this athlete doing what he just told him to do, the coach made a flippant remark.

I watched the athlete completely deflate…

The next performance wasn’t what was expected…

The athlete was down, no longer processing information and was focusing on this flippant remark.

I could see the emotional weight they were carrying with them.

I asked the coach if they knew what they had just done. They had no idea. They’d given information, made sure the athlete was aware of what to achieve and how to achieve it, and then in their mind, the job was done.

So I asked the coach what their role was. They said “My role is to coach and teach.”

I asked them to be more specific and the coach was silent.

This coach has a long history of success in the sport; a great technical knowledge of the sport; knows how to coach, and how to get a result for athletes.

What he didn’t understand was the key role he played.

Their role is to give information and make sure an athlete takes it on in a way they can use, see relevance to, and have a tangible application of.

This coach didn’t see it in that way.

The throwaway comment and the reaction from the athlete undoes all the great information just given.

Where does that leave a coach? Does it mean we have to be conscious of every single word we have to say?

In a way, yes.

Does it mean we can’t joke and have that human interaction with athletes?

Of course not. It’s part of the responsibility of the coach, and part of the athlete, to make sure they understand what they’re getting and what they’re giving.

From a coach’s perspective, being aware that once the information is given, the comments also given will be associated to an emotion. If you give information that makes the athlete feel really good about that, they’re more likely to apply it. If you give information and they feel great, then you give a parting comment that changes the associated emotion, you no longer have a clear and concise application of that information.

That all sounds technical, what it means is if you want an athlete to do their best, leave them with a positive emotion. Make sure you’ve left them feeling comfortable when trying to apply something new – let them use that information in the most efficient format.

From an athlete’s perspective, it comes down to having emotional and mental resilience. There are couple ways to do this.

For older athletes, it’s more about recognition of the relevance of the information. Take a logical approach of “This is what I need for this skill, let me sort that from my coach”. The relationship from the coach to the athlete has to be equal in communication. The information needs to sit well and they have to have an open relationship of good communication.

With younger athletes – teens and lower – building emotional resilience is asking them to see things through a ‘protective layer’. We all have filtering systems that have developed over our life spans and are formed by things we’ve experienced in life. Young athletes are influenced by themselves, parents, social groups, peers, etc. These are inbuilt, cultivated filtering systems.

By tweaking these filters to become more relevant for the younger set is to teach them to create an image in their brain. That is, when anyone is trying to give them information, having a set of filters to put that information through, in order to keep the relevance of that information – is key.

I explain the process of how to build resilience in athletes in detail on my Brain in the Game podcast.

The resilience process gives the athlete wider control over the information they receive, to apply the bits they need, or put it away for later. It also allows athletes to unemotionally bounce the negativity away.

As a coach, how do you give your information? Are you undoing all that great work with your throwaway comment, or not making information relevant?

If you’re an athlete saying “That’s me! My coach has made me feel really negative even after giving me great information…”, then be proactive about managing that information, more aware of what you need to use, to keep, to store and to bounce off.

Also being conscious about how you ask the questions will help this process. Asking in a certain way is more likely to get the response in the same way. If you ask very emotionally-charged questions, you’re more likely to get emotionally-charged responses. How you ask questions will often dictate how you receive the answer.

This process of emotional resilience is about being specific with what we get, how we get it, and how we used it; and letting all the other stuff that comes with it, go.

Using Imagery for Olympic Games Success

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014


Training for the Olympic Games involves developing both physical and mental skills such as imagery. Creating vivid images that stimulate senses of sight, sound, touch and taste is an important and powerful mental skill for athletes who experience challenges during training and competition.

Imagery can involve mental pictures or a film in action featuring an event or activity without performing physical movement. The activity takes place in one’s mind but with the full engagement of other senses.

How imagery works

In this type of simulation, the athlete visualises himself as performing a skill or participating in a competition such as the Olympics. Every movement and every detail of the mental image is experienced through all senses without any physical activity. Through constant practice, the mental image or film creates muscle memory in the nervous and muscular systems as if the athlete had actually exerted real physical effort. The memory created enables the athlete to execute the visualised activity during actual competitions and performances.

Athlete’s visualisation perspective

Internal: In this perspective, the athlete observes the image through his, or her, own eyes as if he, or she, actually performed the activity.
Tip: While practising imagery, you must feel the movements and use all other senses to obtain a complete experience in the present.

Benefits of imagery

Athletes who possess good visualisation skills can:

  • Improve athletic performance
  • Provide continuous practice of physical skills during periods when it is not possible for the athlete to train because of illness, fatigue, and other constraints
  • Boost self-confidence as a result of regular mental practice
  • Increase energy levels through visualisation of energetic activity and effortless performance
  • Induce calm and relaxation by visualising a peaceful and tranquil place when feeling stressed or nervous
  • Minimise sleep difficulty by visualising a place of relaxation.

Tips for using imagery in sports

  • Practise visualisation regularly. Repetition drives the image into your memory.
  • Relax before imagery.
  • Use all senses during imagery. Engage all your senses as you visualise an event, performance or occasion.
  • Turn to imagery for training and competition whenever it is not possible to physically train due to poor weather, injury and other problems commonly affecting Winter Olympics’ athletes.
  • Visualise yourself as a successful athlete who is in control of performance.

Imagery is best used as part of training and preparation for the Olympics. Not all athletes are able to utilise this visualisation technique properly and may need the professional guidance of a sports psychologist or mind coach. Beyond the Olympic Games, imagery can also be used in non-sports related situations such as a tool for relaxation and stress reduction, goal setting and achievement.

Why “Self Talk” May Be A Hurdle To High Performance

Monday, November 18th, 2013

We all know that athletes spend an insurmountable time physically preparing themselves for the sports in which they compete. What is often overlooked is an athlete’s mental “muscle”, a strength which has increasingly been understood to have a huge impact on the performance of any athlete, whether it’s a low performance or high performance sport.

An athlete’s inner voice or “self talk” is one of the most important contributors to an athlete’s mental toughness. It can have either a positive or negative impact on a person, depending on just what it is that an athlete is saying to themselves.

What Is Self Talk?

Mental Skills of Sports PerformanceA number of psychological studies have revealed the link between one’s thinking and how they behave emotionally and behaviourally, both of which have a direct affect on an athlete. Human beings have an inner dialogue where thoughts are generated in the form of an internal conversation. What we often don’t consider is the fact that these private conversations we have with ourselves can have a large impact on how we behave and conduct ourselves publicly.

Anxiety: An Athlete’s Worst Nightmare

Athletes have a lot of pressure thrust upon them: their performance, their placement, and their competition are all reasons why they may suffer anxiety or worrying thoughts. Unfortunately, that anxiety and those worrying thoughts often lead to negative self talk. Studies have shown repeatedly that there is a clear correlation with anxiety and negative self talk, which then becomes a detriment to an athlete’s performance.

Negative self talk can occur at any time during an athlete’s performance. For example, an athlete who mentally beats him or herself up over losing points or having a bad serve will likely then continue to degrade his or her performance rather than improve.

Positivity Means High Performance

Here’s the good news: our brains can be reprogrammed so that they work for us rather than against us. Anxiety can be turned into increased focus and positive self talk that will lead to better performance and improve the development of an athlete. This is why, for example, the Australian Olympic, Paralympic and world athletes have a team of psychologists devoted to them during any event, to support them and ensure they remain relaxed and focused before, during, and after any event.


How Elite Athletes Develop Concentration Skills

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Developing Concentration Skills

The ability to focus the mind entirely on the right cues at the right times during competition is crucial to peak performance.

During competition, concentration can be especially difficult due to various internal and external distractions. Developing advanced concentration skills and managing internal distractions can help elite athletes focus and produce their best performance, or the performance required to win in events.

Types of distractions

Distractions are internal and external factors that can potentially reduce or disrupt concentration. Internally generated distractions such as thoughts, worries and concerns can take over the minds athletes and prevent them from concentrating on the right cues at the right times, leading to failure.

Sources of distraction can be:

  • Thoughts that dwell on past performances
  • Thoughts that obsess on future results, outcomes and consequences
  • Negative self-talk
  • High arousal and anxiety levels which can narrow attention and decrease the athlete’s ability to scan the environment
  • Fatigue

External sources of distraction are those that surround the athlete during performance or competition, potentially affecting concentration. These include visual, auditory and gamesmanship factors.

Visual distraction:

  • spectators
  • camera
  • scoreboard
  • competitors

Auditory distraction: are the sounds of mobile phones, and people talking, shouting, laughing, and cheering.

Gamesmanship distraction: trash-talk

Strategies for improving concentration

Concentration and attention form part of mental strength and are aspects that can be developed and improved through a combination of sport and non-sport related strategies. These include:

Simulation training: This approach teaches an athlete how to manage specific distractions during competition by incorporating them during training.

Cue words: Mind coaches assign keywords and phrases that are used to prompt athletes on things they need to focus on and get back to the present.

Positive self-talk: This strategy deals with internal distraction coming from negative self-talk. Positive affirmations are used to keep negative thoughts away.

Switch On and Off: When elite athletes can “switch on” at a specific point, and learns how to direct focus and attention entirely to the given point. On the other hand, an athlete will “switch off” by shifting his attention to non-performance matters. This approach helps develop attention control that is crucial during competition.

Parking thoughts: “Parking” is used to set aside distracting thoughts to a later time by using visualisation techniques or positive self-talk which shelves the troublesome thought elsewhere in a secure and non-distracting location until after the performance.

“Here and Now”: Athletes are taught to view the present as the only timeframe that they can control unlike thoughts of the past and future. The goal of this strategy is to develop the athlete’s ability to focus on the present.

Developing concentration skills is not always easy. Athletes who wish to excel in their game may need the professional services of a sports psychologist or mind coach who can assess their psychological needs and create the best mind strategies for them.